Several of you have asked about my sewing machine. Which machine I use and what would I recommend? These are important but also hard to answer questions. Even if I don’t have a vast experience on different sewing machines, I want now to tell a little bit about my Bernina Activa 210 machine to satisfy your curiosity.
My short history in sewing machines
So, as I said, I haven’t sewn with very many different models and my knowledge is here limited. My first machine and the machine I learnt to sew with was a lovely Singer from the 1970s that my mother had. At school, we sewed with Berninas, if I remember correctly.
My mother later gifted her old Singer it to me when I was a student at a university and I used it for a few years. I had a really temperamental overlocker, too, that my mother also gifted to me after having lost any hope getting any good results with it! I managed to get it working and was able to sew the seams of the jersey tops with no problems. The sewing machine was still needed for the finishing.
The Singer didn’t have the double-overlock stitch that I wanted to finish the bindings of my kids’ tops. After I had kids and started sewing for them, I wanted a machine which would be better suited for jerseys and other stretchy materials. So I bought my current machine, Bernina Activa 210 about 10 years ago.
My machine – Bernina Activa 210
Activa 210 is the cheapest of the Bernina’s Activa range and a very basic machine. I went for it for the reliable Swiss brand even though I knew that Berninas are pretty pricey. I’d rather have a good basic machine that I can trust, than a fancy computerized one that jams or needs constant maintenance.
I have been sewing with it for 10 years and have only now started thinking more about updating it. However, as I got my coverstitch machine only a year ago, I’m still waiting a bit before buying another machine. (Or if you want to sponsor me with one, feel free!)
My machine has only the most basic stitches and I have been quite happy with them. Many sewing machines have tons of different stitches but, to be honest, most people use only straight and zigzag. As I sew a lot, I also use the stretch stitch, three-step-zigzag, blind-hem stitch, double overlock stitch and the automatic buttonhole. So, of the 11 stitches that my machine has, I only use 7. And even then I only use the blind-hem stitch to make scalloped edges. I prefer slip-stitching the hems by hand to get a perfectly invisible finish.
Here are the examples of the first 9 stitches:
Now that I have moved into more challenging makes, I’d like my machine to have a few more stitches. When making coats and jeans, I’d like to be able to make keyhole-shaped buttonholes. I have also seen some pretty things done with sheer underwear fabrics and decorative stitches. I’d really like to try doing that, but my machine doesn’t have any decorative stitches for me to experiment with.
The machine came with a few different presser feet: A regular (zigzag) foot, a blind-hemmer foot, a zipper foot and a buttonhole foot. You can manage most of the sewing tasks with these.
However, in the last few years, my foot collection has grown quite a bit with both genuine Bernina feet and generic ones. (You can buy a special adaptor to fit generic feet into Bernina.) The genuine feet are quite expensive but they work better than the cheap ones and make your sewing easier. If you want to see my whole collection, go here. That post has my most frequently used feet listed and described. It only lacks a few feet that I don’t ever use and my newest flea market found – a buttonhole foot that is much better than my old generic one. (I needed to modify the foot with my Dremel a bit to make it fit my machine but as it really was a great looking foot and cost only 1 €, I did it.)
Anyway, I highly recommend buying a walking foot even though it is really expensive for Bernina. It’s the foot I use the most and it really helps to deal with difficult fabrics and pattern matching.
The manual that came with my machine is very small. It has the basic info, but I’d have liked to have a little bit more if I were a beginner. Luckily with a brand this popular, there are tons of sewing videos available online that can help you if you run into trouble.
Handling of fabrics and thread
My machine has been able to handle most of the fabrics I have thrown on it. It has difficulties with very thick seams on leather and sewing lycra requires a special needle and a walking foot, especially if combined with fold-over-elastic. This is a bit of a bummer, really, since there are machines that don’t need any extra adjustments to deal with lycra.
I have managed to sew leather fairly well with both my walking foot and Teflon feet. As long as the leather doesn’t get too thick, the machine can handle it. I only need to use a leather needle.
I use normal Coats and Gütermann sewing threads with no difficulty. The bobbin side straight stitch, with especially darker Coats threads and thinner fabrics, is sometimes a bit wavy. This bothers me a bit when hemming as I have to sew from the wrong side. I usually try my best to sew from the right-side only.
Topstitching threads don’t work well with my machine. Even if I threaded the bobbin with regular thread, there tend to be ugly loops on the wrong side at best and horrible tangles at worst scenario. I can make pretty nice topstitching when I use normal sewing machine thread doubled.
The machine came with a needle threader. It took me quite a while to learn to use it and then one day my needle wasn’t in the exact right position and the whole thing broke. They tried fixing it at the next maintenance, but the truth is that it hasn’t worked after that. I think that my mistake was something that many people will make at some point and thus the needle threader should have been designed better.
The automatic needle-up/needle-down setting is very handy and I use it a lot. I lower the feed dogs regularly to sew on buttons. However, I never use the half-speed option or the fine-adjustment of the stitch length.
You cannot adjust the presser foot pressure. That’s something that I’d have like to do when encountering some problems with stitches.
The machine has no top-loadable bobbin. That means that you cannot easily check the amount of bobbin thread you have left. You get used to loading the bobbing with the bobbin case quite fast but the case prevents you from seeing the bobbin from the outside.
What are some features I’d wish from my machine
There are some cool features that more expensive machines have and if I could just add features to my machine, I would get these features:
- Better handling of top-stitching thread
- Better handling of underwear lycra
- More decorative stitches
- More power
- Automatic thread cutting
- Winding from the spot
As you can see, the two most important things to me cannot be just read from the specs. So, we’ll end up asking…
How would I now approach buying a sewing machine?
I think that it would be crucial to spend time trying out as many machines as possible. Don’t just walk into a shop and come back with a machine. Browse around with a selection of fabrics/threads you are planning to use and try sewing with the machines.
My selection of swatches would include at least:
- 6 layers of denim with both normal and topstitching thread
- leather in a few different thicknesses
- plasticky faux leather
- tulle or lace
I would want to see all the most important functions in action, such as an automatic buttonhole, needle threader etc.
I would also compare the prices of the accessories. How expensive are the presser feet? Are they easy to get? How often do you have to maintain the machine? Can you easily to go back to the shop where you bought it from to ask advice? For me it has been important to have been able to go back and ask advice on, for example, one would sew on a button with my sewing machine.
I would also read other people’s reviews online. If you are sewing something less common or specific, like bras, for example, I’d go to the suitable Facebook forums and ask people’s opinions and experiences. Some machines seem to be better suited to handle certain materials.
I hope that this post answered most of your questions! What kind of machine do you use? Do you have a machine that you would recommend others? Do you have any tips on how to approach buying a sewing machine? Write a comment and share your knowledge!
Thank you for reading and special thanks to all of you who have subscribed to the blog. Happy sewing!